What can Pagans offer the world? Not Paganism the religion(s) but all of us who call ourselves Pagans. What can we offer individually? What can we offer in our covens and groves and other groups?
As an individual blogger this is an easy question. I write what the Awen brings to me, I write what interests me, and I write what I’m doing. If you like something I write, great – enjoy reading it. Hopefully you’ll walk away better informed and maybe better inspired. If you really like it, maybe you’ll leave a comment and we’ll explore the matter in greater depth. If you don’t like it, maybe you’ll like my next post… and ultimately, there are plenty of other bloggers to read.
The question gets more complicated with a group. Now you’re not just dealing with one person’s thoughts and needs and desires, you’re dealing with several. If the group is public, you’re also dealing with the needs of people who aren’t even in the room.
What does your group offer? Who do you offer it to?
Do you offer public rituals on the eight major Pagan holidays? On the full moons? On other days sacred to your tradition? There is great value in giving people the opportunity to celebrate with others. When I was solitary the quarters and crossquarters would often fly by unnoticed (Samhain was the notable exception, but that’s at least partially because I had Halloween as a reminder). As part of Denton CUUPS, all the holidays are a big deal – as much because we get together and DO something as anything else.
Seasonal celebrations are great opportunities for presenting myths in dramatic form and for demonstrating how to honor the gods (or at least, one way to honor the gods). They’re an opportunity to call people to deeper practice and to tangible action. And as with any gathering, they’re a great opportunity to work magic for ourselves and for others.
Do you offer classes for beginners? There’s a ton of Wicca 101 / Introduction to Druidry / Basic Pagan Practice books available, but books are no substitute for live instruction from a teacher who’s been there and done that. If you offer teaching, is it one-shot workshops? Weekly classes? Formal dedicant programs? Book discussion groups?
Do you offer social gatherings? I’ve written a lot lately about the need to build strong tribes. Attending the same ritual is good, but so is getting to know people over beer and pizza.
Do you offer initiations, rites of passage, healing rituals, and other ceremonies tailored to individual needs?
Do you offer opportunities for deeper practice and stronger magic? If finding a good Pagan group is hard, finding a group that does advanced work approaches impossible. I’m not talking about moving from novice to participant to leader. I’m talking about the kind of ritual and magic that requires a level of understanding and perspective that few beginners and many experienced Pagans don’t have and aren’t interested in developing.
If you do offer this, how do you deal with those who think they’re up for it but aren’t? How do you draw in those who need this work but are afraid of it?
These are some of the many things groups can offer – which ones will you do?
One standard answer is “this is what we’ve always done so this is what we’ll keep doing.” It’s good to have an identity and it’s good to focus on your strengths. But an unreflective approach runs the risk of missing out on new experiences and of becoming stagnant.
Another standard answer is “those are all important so we have to do them all.” That way lies burnout. In any group there are only so many resources, whether those resources are teachers or ritual leaders or musicians or just ordinary-but-committed folks to fill out the circles. All of those “resources” are people with some combination of families, homes, jobs, school and other interests, all of which have some claim on their time. Be realistic about how much you can bite off.
Rather than either of these reflexive answers, I encourage you to have an intentional conversation about what you can offer. What is part of your group’s core identity – what do you feel like you must do? What are the needs of your members – both what they need to receive and what they need to give? What are the needs of your community and how can you help meet them? What are the goddesses and gods you follow calling you to do?
Then figure out what your capacity is – how much of this can you actually do? Stretching a little is a good thing. Overcommitting is a recipe for failure. Somewhere in the mixture of “most needed” “our tradition” “what we’re good at” and “what we can actually get done” is your answer to the question of “what do we offer?”
Whether you marked the new year on October 31 or whether you’re looking forward to it on January 1, the winding-down of 2013 is a call to look forward to 2014. If you’re part of a group, I encourage you to have an open and honest discussion about what you need to offer and what you can offer, and then make a commitment to what you will offer.